MIDDLETOWN – Soon after moving to New Jersey from her native Greece at age 7, Kitsa Mavrode and her family made a name for themselves in the restaurant industry.
And today, as co-owner of Middletown Pancake House in Middletown, Mavrode and her team continue to bring their passion to the decades-old institution, serving a range of breakfast and lunch dishes that have kept community members coming back for generations.
“My Uncle Louis owned restaurants and I worked for him as a waitress and front-of-house person all during high school,” said Mavrode, who grew up in Union and Middlesex counties and currently lives in Tinton Falls.
“In 1986, my family bought an existing restaurant in Middletown that had once been a Perkins and had since been renamed Middletown Pancake House,” Mavrode said. “My father Steve was a cook/chef and everything he made from scratch — from our homemade soups and rice pudding to our pancake batter, buttermilk crepes, potato pancakes and more,” she said.
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Mavrode pursued a degree in business at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and eventually married and moved to Maryland with her husband, “but we moved back within a year because my parents had bought the restaurant and needed help and we wanted to raise our kids around family ,” she said.
Once she returned, she and her family members settled into a successful routine at the restaurant, with her father as the cook and she, her mother Kathy, and her sister Betsy managing front-of-house operations.
Though her parents have since passed, “I currently own the Middletown Pancake House with partners, of which I’m the operating partner,” Mavrode said of the cozy restaurant, which is open for breakfast and lunch every day except Tuesdays and offers far more than its name suggests.
“Customers come from as near as Middletown and as far as North Jersey, Staten Island, and Brooklyn for such signature items as our buttermilk pancakes (made from a 36-year-old proprietary pancake batter recipe), French toast, potato pancakes, and homemade gluten-free banana bread as well as our chef’s soups, paninis, specialty sandwiches, juicy burgers and fresh omelets — we’re more than just pancakes,” she said.
“We have a very diverse menu with salads, burritos, quesadillas and waffles as well as creative pancake flavors like cinnamon bun, walnut caramel and Oreo, and we also make our own lattes, small-batch cold-brew coffee and iced tea in- house along with a range of smoothies and milkshakes,” Mavrode said.
“I love to cook and bake and am responsible for creating the unique recipes,” Mavrode said of one of her favorite roles. “All of the staff (and some customers!) taste-test the creations and if they’re deemed ‘delicious,’ I teach my kitchen team to make them.”
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Now in operation for nearly four decades, “we’ve undergone three renovations since owning the restaurant,” said Mavrode, who confirmed other changes over the years as well. “For instance, we used to offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but now we just focus on breakfast and lunch, which can be enjoyed all day from 8 am to 3 pm”
“We work hard to keep evolving to meet the needs of our customers, such as adding hot and spicy dishes and many gluten-free and vegan menu items made from scratch in-house,” she said.
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While the menu has expanded over the years, one thing that hasn’t changed is the restaurant’s name.
“A few years back, our sign was destroyed by a storm and we had to replace it,” Mavrode recalled. “We considered changing the name at that time because we’re not just pancakes. It was a tough decision, as we have such a diverse menu, but ultimately we left our name unchanged because we’re an historic icon in our town. Since then, we like to say that we’re ‘Middletown Pancake House and so much more.’”
Another long-standing hallmark of the 200-seat restaurant has been its role as a hub for a variety of family-friendly gatherings. “We decorate for the holidays, host Santa and the Easter Bunny when they’re in town, and find that ‘kids’ of all ages enjoy the excitement and souvenirs year after year,” she said.
“In addition to our three main dining rooms, we also have a private dining room that can accommodate up to 60 people for various events, including communions, birthdays, retirement parties, corporate and networking meetings, bridal showers and more,” Mavrode said. “Many sports teams also come in for team events or after a game.”
Among trends, “we find that some people prefer to order takeout rather than to dine in,” said Mavrode, who’s embedded with DoorDash, Grubhub and UberEats to accommodate this desire.
“Also, many diners enjoy combination platters that offer a little bit of everything — such as French toast, pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon and hash browns — so that they don’t have to order them separately. People also like to customize their dishes, so our build-your-own omelet and pancake options are popular,” she said. “We cater to our customers’ requests and if we have the ingredients and something can be cooked or prepared, we’ll happily make it. We’ve even made six- and ten-egg omelets upon request!”
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A family serving generations of families
Currently supported by 13 team members and looking to hire more, Mavrode said that a number of factors continue to challenge their operations. “For one,” she said, “costs have gone up so much recently on everything from meat, chicken, eggs, flour, coffee and soda to fuel and utilities and we’ve been absorbing these rising expenses in an attempt to keep our prices affordable for customers.”
She also expects to see costs rise on straws, take-out utensils, packaging and cups as the restaurant complies with the state’s ban on certain plastics, which takes effect in May.
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As they manage the challenges that come their way, camaraderie remains high at the popular eatery.
“We’re a very positive place and our crew is great; they love their jobs and know what I expect,” Mavrode said. “We have a lot of teamwork and we’re all about taking care of our customers. In light of the difficulties of the pandemic, we truly appreciate our wonderful customers and are grateful that we’ve been able to remain open and operating.
“Ultimately, we’re a family-owned restaurant that’s served generations of families and places like ours don’t necessarily last this long,” acknowledged Mavrode, who enjoys the fact that kids who once dined or worked at Middletown Pancake House now come back to dine with their own children. “We hope to keep enhancing our menu, taking the restaurant to its fullest and satisfying customers.”
As for what inspires her most, “I love seeing people come in with their families and have a great dining experience,” Mavrode said. “We’re excited that we can continue to offer community members this destination and special tradition. We want everyone who comes in to feel like part of our family.”
Middletown Pancake House Family Restaurant
Location: 1610 Route 35, Middletown
Managing owner: Kitsa Mavrode
Opened: 1986 (under current ownership)
social media: MiddletownPancakeHouse (Facebook)
Hours: 8 am to 3 pm Wednesdays through Mondays